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Season preview: Washington Capitals

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Season preview: Washington Capitals

To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.

Today’s team: Washington Capitals

2014-15 record: 45-26-11, 2nd in the Metropolitan

How they finished: Lost in seven games to the New York Rangers in the conference semifinals

Coach: Barry Trotz (2nd season)

Notable additions: RW T.J. Oshie, RW Justin Williams

Notable subtractions: RW Troy Brouwer, D John Erskine, C Eric Fehr, D Mike Green, RW Joel Ward

RELATED: Holtby among top 10 goalies in EA Sports' new game

Outlook: Despite all the progress that was made last season, the Caps still headed into the summer on a familiar note after a heart-breaking Game 7 loss in the playoffs to the New York Rangers. The team is back on the right track in terms of coaching -- to call Barry Trotz and upgrade over Adam Oates would be an understatement -- but they still must find a way to climb over the playoff hump and the clock is ticking.

Alex Ovechkin will be 30 by the start of the season, the time for this team to win is now. General manager Brian MacLellan knows that so he went out and brought in two top-six forwards to try and balance out the offense.

Despite having Ovechkin and Nicklas Bacstrom, the Caps did not have a set top line because they lacked a true top-line right wing. That should not be an issue now that the team added both T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams in the offseason.

With Evgeny Kuznetsov at center on the second line and either Andre Burakovsky or Marcus Johansson at left wing, this top six looks dominant.

The loss of Eric Fehr leaves the Caps with a hole on the third line, but the good news is that whoever loses the battle between Burakovsky and Johansson will be pushed down giving that line a top-six caliber forward. It is not exactly clear just how the lines will ultimately fill out (I have my theory), but the addition of Oshi and Williams should make the offense much more balanced and adds more skill.

Despite the loss of Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, this season's offense will be better.

Mike Green will no longer be patrolling the blue line, but at $6 million per year, he became simply too expensive as a third-pair defenseman. Taking over for him and Tim Gleason will be Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. This pairing is one of the biggest question marks for the Caps.

After complications from wrist surgery forced Orlov to miss the entire 2014-15 season, it's anyone's guess just what to expect from him. Nate Schmidt has never spent a full season at the NHL level. Though he is clearly ready, it remains to be seen just how a pair of Orlov and Schmidt will ultimately pan out.

In front of them, the top four will remain intact from last season. The team will need more production out of John Carlson especially on the power play to make up for Green's absence and the Caps will have to cross their fingers that the soon-to-be 35-year-old Brooks Orpik is still able to play top-pair minutes.

The defense's job is made much easier by Braden Holtby, of course, who will benefit from another year under goalie coach Mitch Korn and should have a backup behind him in Philipp Grubauer who can actually give Holtby a few nights off. There's no reason to think Holtby will not continue to show himself to be one of the NHL's top goalies.

Expectations: This is a better team than the one that came within one goal of reaching the conference finals last season. The question is how much did the teams around them improve as well?

The Metropolitan Division this season will come down to the Caps, Penguins and Rangers. If Backstrom misses an extended period of time at the beginning of the season, that could put the Caps at an early disadvantage that could drop them in the regular season standings, but I believe with the additions of Oshie and Williams they have surpassed the Rangers and I don't trust Pittsburgh's coaching. Ultimately, the biggest obstacle in the conference comes from Tampa Bay.

They may not be at the level of a team like the Lightning, but the Caps are definitely one of the better teams in the conference and it would not be surprising at all to see them finally get through the second round and compete for a conference title.

MORE CAPS: Laughlins to face USA Warriors in charity game

See all other team previews:

Pacific Division 
Anaheim Ducks 
Arizona Coyotes 
Calgary Flames 
Edmonton Oilers 
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks 
Vancouver Canucks

Central Division 
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche
Dallas Stars
Minnesota Wild
Nashville Predators
St. Louis Blues
Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division 
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens
Ottawa Senators
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan Division 
Carolina Hurricanes
Columbus Blue Jackets
New Jersey Devils 
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Philadelphia Flyers 
Pittsburgh Penguins

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2018 NHL Draft: Caps add 7 prospects, 4 from WHL

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USA TODAY Sports

2018 NHL Draft: Caps add 7 prospects, 4 from WHL

The Caps made seven selections in the 2018 Draft this weekend. The group featured three defensemen, three forwards and a goalie. Interestingly, a couple of the picks have fathers who enjoyed lengthy NHL careers.

Meet the newest prospects:

1st round, 31st overall: D Alexander Alexeyev, WHL, 6'4", 196 pounds

The Caps' first first-round pick sine 2016, Alexeyev is a smart two-way defenseman with good size.

Read more on him here.

2nd round, 46th overall (from Florida, via New Jersey): D Martin Fehervary, Allsvenskan (Sweden), 6'2", 194 pounds

A physical style defenseman who is very strong in his own end, but does not have much offensive upside. Sort of a throwback style of play which makes him a surprise pick this high.


2nd round, 47th overall (From Colorado): F Kody Clark, OHL, 6'1", 179 pounds

Kody Clark boasts an NHL pedigree as the son of Wendel Clark, a first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs who recorded 330 goals and 564 career points in 763 NHL games.


3rd round, 93rd overall: F Riley Sutter, WHL, 6'3", 203 pounds

Riley Sutter also boasts a strong NHL pedigree as the son of Run Sutter and nephew of Darryl Sutter.

Riley is a power forward who played alongside Caps prospect Garrett Pilon on the Everett Silvertips in the WHL and recorded 53 points in 68 games last season.


4th round, 124th overall: G Mitchell Gibson, NAHL, 6'1", 187 pounds

A Harvard commit, Gibson posted a 1.59 GAA and .935 save percentage in the NAHL last season.


6th round, 161st overall (from Vancouver): D Alex Kannok-Leipert, WHL, 5'11", 194 pounds

The Caps certainly saw something they liked in Kannok-Leipert as they traded up from 186 to get him. That pick, along with a sixth-round pick in 2019, went to Vancouver.


7th round, 217th overall: F Eric Florchuk, WHL, 6'2", 174 pounds

Florchuk was taken with the last pick of the draft.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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USA TODAY Sports

GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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